Making sense of online earmark disclosuresBy Bill Allison Apr 07 2009 2:13 p.m. 1 comment
As noted immediately below, House members started disclosing, on their official Web sites, their requests for earmarks (which members use to allocate federal funds for specific projects and recipients) last Friday. Over the weekend, I started looking at the disclosures, more to see what format the disclosures were in rather than whether they were online by a certain time. Since Roll Call first reported the changes, this has been a concern of mine.
If members used the same format for disclosure, it would be a simple matter for us or anyone else to download all the data and put them into an online tool like Earmark Watch that lets constituents research projects in their area and comment on them. Instead, there's no consistency at all in formats--we have everything from PDF image files (pictures of pages that can't be searched) to elaborate charts--pretty much what I predicted here. I'm happy to see that Joe Germuska has tried to parse a few of these. He proves that smart programmers can make with this data more useful than I thought. That said, I'd much rather see what he could do to make formatted data more accessible, rather than spending his time fixing the data out of the starting block.
In my review of Web sites over the weekend, I missed several I should have seen. The most embarrassing oversight for me was missing, on her home page, the disclosures of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schulz. The one thing I tried to be meticulous about was that I'd read every single word on every single home page--there would be nothing worse than saying I couldn't find something when someone had a big red flashing button saying "Earmarks here" on their home page. Wasserman Schulz had part of the release on the page, but I missed it the first time and also couldn't see it after an aide told me about it. I think that's because she disclosed on March 20 -- much earlier than anyone else (of the members who dated their disclosures, a few came in on March 31, but most were in April). I think seeing the March 20 date was enough to make my eyes ignore the text of the release, despite my vow to read whole home pages. My fault.
(On a few occasions I did have trouble spotting things on home pages -- for whatever reason, it took me a long while to spot the link to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's requests on her home page. That said, for most sites it took me less than a minute of hunting around to find the disclosures.)
Others that I missed and shouldn't have (and that staffers were kind enough to forward links to me) were: Rep. Jim Costa, Rep. Jose Serrano, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Rep. George Miller, Rep. Paul Sarbanes, Rep. Niki Tsongas, Rep. Mark Schauer, Rep. Zachary Space, Rep. John Boccieri, Rep. John Yarmuth, Rep. Dennis Moore, Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper, Rep. Gary Peters and Rep. Andre Carson.
They've all been added to the database. Note though some of the locations of those list. Rep. John Yarmouth links to disclosures of his appropriations requests at the bottom of an inside page that explains to constituents how they can apply for federal grants and assistance. I should have seen it, but I didn't. And I still can't find a link on Rep. John Bocciera's site to his list. The URL -- http://boccieri.house.gov/district/investments.shtml -- suggests it would be on the district page, but when I look there, I don't see anything about appropriations requests, or anywhere else, for that matter. It's entirely possible I'm just missing the flashing red appropriations link, but I
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